HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration on Wednesday announced that it was creating a suicide prevention task force, citing an “epidemic” increase in suicide in the last 20 years.
The task force, which will begin meeting next month, will aim to create a long-term suicide prevention plan that will build awareness of mental-health resources and reduce the stigma around suicide and mental-health conditions.
Last year alone, 2,030 people committed suicide in Pennsylvania — among them 11 National Guard members. According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania’s suicide rate rose 34 percent between 1999 and 2016. The nationwide increase was 25 percent.
“I am someone who, at the darkest point in my life, thought suicide might be an option,” Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D., Lehigh), who will serve on the task force, said at a Capitol news conference with lawmakers and administration officials. “One death by suicide is too high, and 2,030 is near criminal. The rise in suicides and mental-health issues is a public-health crisis.”
The CDC report recommended that each state address factors that lead to suicide, like substance abuse, loss of housing, criminal legal issues, and financial insecurity.
Pennsylvania’s task force is made up of representatives from departments including Aging, Education, Health, Drug and Alcohol Programs, and Military and Veterans Affairs; the Pennsylvania State Police, and Prevent Suicide PA, as well as Schlossberg and Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D., Phila.).
Funding for recommendations made by the task force will come partially from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Other funding will be determined as a plan is written, officials said.
“We’re here today because we need to do more,” said Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller.
She added: “If we’re going to reverse the growing prevalence of suicide as a leading cause of death, we must expand our perspective and strengthen our approach.”